Breaking Up [with Contacts] is Hard to Do


“Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes.  I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again.”  — Billy Joel, “Say Goodbye to Hollywood”

Last year, when I requested potential topics for my November posts, a member of the CLC community asked me to address ways to end relationships with contacts you no longer want in your network. Ouch!  Quite honestly, I thanked her for the suggestion and, whether purposely or otherwise, seemed to dismiss it out of hand!  It’s a topic that makes me squirm… it is so counter to my entire Networking philosophy.  And, yet, there it is… waiting to be addressed.

Sometimes, as we move in and out of interactions with others, relationships come to a natural, quiet close without the need for any confrontation of any kind.  That’s not what I’m talking about here… Specifically, over the past 24 months, I can think of two occasions when it was obvious to me that my contact and I were on such different planes that our interactions had become some combination of exhausting, taxing, unenjoyable and required some official end.

For me, this is exceptionally uncomfortable.  While I don’t necessarily avoid conflict, I’m not much of one to go seeking it out.  Couple that with a basic belief that everyone has something of value to bring to a relationship, it is not in my nature to tell someone I don’t wish to have any further dealings with them.  However, sometimes it is necessary to be very direct in ending a relationship.  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Offer an alternative solution.  If you prefer to not continue to engage with someone, offer them another path to address their needs.  Perhaps you can point them in a different direction to a resource that would be more appropriate for their needs.  Recommend that you take a break.  Encourage and help them to find another person or place that can be of better assistance.
  2. Honesty is the best policy.  It is never one’s intention to hurt someone else’s feelings.  However, by being direct with someone, that can sometimes happen.  Be prepared for it.  You can use language like, “I just don’t think we can provide value to one another at this time,” or “Please understand, I must focus my attention elsewhere for the time being.”  I am not guaranteeing understanding or agreement on their part, but nobody can say you weren’t honest!
  3. Walk away.  The silent treatment is not really my style, but sometimes that is what it takes to get your message across.  Following a rather heated exchange with one contact, we’ll call her, “Eva,” I was berated for not being willing to meet with this rather rude and arrogant person within a shorter period of time than six weeks.  When I used tactic #2 above and said I didn’t think we could provide value to one another, Eva became hostile.  Rather than pursue the matter further, I ended all communications with her.  A week later, she sent an apology.  We are still not in one another’s circles… and, I’m OK with that; indeed, it was time for us to break up!
  4. Sometimes it’s OK to tell them they have lettuce in their teeth!  Use of humor as a way to diffuse tension while still getting your message across can be extremely powerful.  “Hey, I would love to get together, but honestly – we’d drive each other nuts!”  Or maybe, “I would rather have a root canal. Or maybe a weekend long timeshare sales pitch.  Anything, but putting my hard work into someone who dismisses all of my advice.”  Or, in the spirit of George Costanza, you can retreat to that old fall back, “It’ not you; it’s me!

Please weigh in… we could all use the wisdom and guidance of the broader CLC community.  How would you “break up” with a contact in a polite, respectful manner that accomplishes the goal (to end the relationship), but leaves everyone’s dignity intact?  Your input is greatly appreciated.

4 thoughts to “Breaking Up [with Contacts] is Hard to Do”

  1. Wow, I had a somewhat similar experience with an “Eva” years ago, but mine was my manager’s manager.
    She gave us both a dressing-down in her office. I couldn’t believe it. It was totally unjustified, but none-the-less I walked away without saying anything. Like your Eva, two days later she apologized.
    I know my story is different than leaving a contact, but hopefully it helps to illustrate our need to always be professional, kind and courteous, no matter what method we choose.

    Loved the video. Thanks for sharing it.
    Regards, Don

  2. Thanks, Don. Goes to show that we all encounter difficult situations with our contacts. It’s common and, so long as we handle our interactions appropriately, we can emerge wiser and stronger than when we entered the relationship in the first place.

  3. I’ve felt the sting of a Contact Breakup – ranging in style from Dear Dodie email to clicking “unsubscribe,” even as I know from a time management and marketing perspective, there’s nothing more valuable to me than the person who realizes we’re not a fit before I do!!

    Filtering relationships is just wise, and the earlier in the acquaintance the better. You offer some great easy ways to do that, Alana. When filtering, if not an immediate or obvious reason for connecting, I thank the person for contact and genuinely mean it when I tell them, “I look forward to staying in touch and learning more via social media for the prospect we have reason to connect in the future.”

    I also have learned I’m not as important to others as my ego would believe. Direct, swift, and kind, in the manner appropriate for the relationship is most respectful. Ultimately, I think the breakup manner is best when commensurate with the intimacy, impact, and quality of the relationship.

    I have a few more thoughts in this blog post specifically about Client contact breaking up – hardest when you genuinely care about the client but need to move on for business reasons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *